Is the future of retail weird?

Shops in the heart of the desert and stores where you make your own bag could point the way forward for retail, which is becoming less about luxury and theatre and more about memorable experiences

Physical retail has taken a big hit this year, with Covid-19 restrictions creating vastly reduced footfall for many brands. Bricks and mortar stores were already up against it, and the pandemic has only accelerated these issues by forcing consumers to rely more heavily on e-commerce.

It’s likely that high streets everywhere are going to look much different post-Covid, and there have already been signs of brands changing tack – for example, John Lewis recently announced it will build rental homes at its sites, following on from its first full-year loss.

But amongst the sights of shuttered stores and dismal profit news, some brands have managed to be creative. Earlier this year, Freitag launched its Sweat Yourself Shop – a ‘micro-factory’ where people could help assemble their own bags from leftover tarpaulin material from the nearby Zurich factory. Customers selected a colour from a hanging conveyor belt of rainbow fabric, helped cut out the pattern and then saw it stitched in front of them.

Top image: managers Ross and Carol outside the Tjukayirla Roadhouse, the first physical location Vollebak has stocked its clothes; Above: Freitag’s Sweat Yourself shop

Clothes brand Vollebak adopted an even more unusual approach, announcing its products would be stocked in physical stores for the first time but with one catch – they’d all be in the world’s most hard-to-reach locations. Remote Store One, as it’s called, is located in Australia’s Great Victoria Desert, at the Tjukayirla Roadhouse. Getting there requires a 1,126 km drive down an outback highway which is mostly empty of other drivers. A vehicle graveyard outside the roadhouse speaks to the area’s inhospitable nature. To make it more complex, Western Australia is in lockdown, and the Aboriginal land that the store’s located in requires a permit to visit.